After suffering a sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants, the A's get the day off to ponder their next task: a three-game set with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are coming off a successful weekend in which they took two of three from the Texas Rangers, and own the best record in all of baseball (42-22).
This is the first encounter between the two teams since the A's swept a home series in 2006. In fact, Oakland has won 10 of the last 12 meetings, and enjoys a 12-7 record overall against Los Angeles. However, they are only 3-5 at Dodger Stadium, having last played there on June 11, 2000, when Kevin Appier spun a complete-game, seven-hit shutout for the visitors. Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada drove in two runs apiece in Oakland's 6-0 win (just in case anyone needed another reason to bemoan our current predicament on the left side of the infield).
Of course any mention of A's and the Dodgers is sure to conjure up conversations of a certain homerun, but I prefer to remember the 1974 World Series when the Mustache Gang captured its third straight title by beating LA in five games.
I had a chance to toss some questions at Eric Stephen of True Blue LA:
67M: With the Dodgers comfortably in front in the NL West, and with Manny due to return first week of July, is this team primed to make its first Series trip in 21 seasons?
ES: With the unpredictability of short series in the postseason, I never like to predict that far ahead, but the Dodgers are certainly set up for a run in the playoffs. Taking into account starting pitching, bullpen, offense, and defense, there is no better team in the National League. Depending on what moves are made at the July trading deadline, the Dodgers are as primed as anybody to make their first World Series trip since the Kirk Gibson-led club in 1988.
(He had to mention that name, didn't he?)
67M: What has Joe Torre's presence meant to the Dodgers? What impresses you most about him?
ES: Torre isn't a fiery guy, like Kirk Gibson was, but he seems to be a calming influence on the club. He never gets too high or too low, and the professionalism rubs off on the club. Torre can sometimes be maddening -- he batted Matt Kemp 9th on Saturday, for instance -- but for the most part he has played his best eight players all season.
67M: The Dodgers have struggled offensively of late. Often when you see a star player go down (or in this case, get suspended), his teammates tend to pick up the slack over a short period of time. But the longer the star player is out, the harder it becomes to maintain that kind of production. What are your thoughts on that, and do you think that has been the case with Manny being gone?
ES: I think that's a valid point. There have been points in the past few weeks when everyone is struggling offensively, and we think, "how in the hell do we still have the best record in baseball?" Andre Ethier was pressing in May, and struggled mightily (.211/.306/.295).
67M: Then again the Dodgers still rank high in nearly every offensive category (though home runs is not one of them), including second in batting and in runs scored. Who would you say has picked up the slack the most in Manny's absence?
ES: Casey Blake and Juan Pierre carried the club in May, while Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp have picked it up in June.
67M: One more Manny question: do you expect there to be any negative ramifications upon his return, from a team/chemistry standpoint?
ES: The team loves having Manny around, so I don't think there will be any negative ramifications when he comes back, other than perhaps having to deal with the media crush. Besides, any negative feeling should be offset by the positivity of having his bat back in the lineup.
Manny is a playful dude. If someone puts eye black in the ring of his hat, a la Jesse Orosco, I'm sure Manny would laugh it off, rather than blow up at the team like Kirk Gibson did in 1988.
(I am detecting a disturbing trend in Eric's responses.)
67M: Is Andre Ethier pretty much everything you've expected from him so far? Is he just beginning to scratch the surface?
ES: I think that surface was scratched last season. I can't see him performing much better than he did last season, but he should be a very good player for the next few years at least. Ethier in 2008 was the last left-handed hitting Dodger outfielder to hit 20 homers, post a .375 OBP, and have at least seven sacrifice flies since Kirk Gibson in 1988.
67M: Pitching is still the key to going far in October, and the Dodgers' collective ERA is tops in the National League. Chad Billingsley has been superb, and we're glad not to have to face him. What can we expect to see from Clayton Kershaw (Tuesday), Hiroki Kuroda (Wednesday), and Randy Wolf (Thursday)?
ES: Tuesday: You will see a fastball and a curveball from Kershaw, and little else. If he can get the curve over for a strike, you will be in trouble; otherwise, if you're patient enough, he will be out of the game after five innings
Wednesday: This will be Kuroda's fourth start since coming off the DL, so he's still getting back into the groove. Usually, Kuroda has excellent control, and you will see a steady diet of fastballs and sliders.
Thursday: Most likely you will see a Randy Wolf no-decision (he has 9 on the season in 14 starts), but while he's in the game you will see a lot of strikes, via both the fastball and curveball. Wolf had a bit of a HR spell recently (six HR over four starts), but he was brilliant on Saturday in Texas (five shutout innings before a two-hour delay thanks to a light malfunction).
67M: For A's fans there is a certain former Dodger whose name we are not allowed to mention. I'm pretty sure you know who that is (well, duh). Any Oakland player, past or present (ha) that falls into that category for Dodger fans? Or for that matter, any player from any team? Say, Jack Clark?
ES: I can't think of any particular Oakland player, past or present, that I absolutely hate. I do love Dennis Eckersley, however.
67M: Another name not high on our list is Rafael Furcal. Your take on the whole situation, where it looked like he might be headed to Oakland, and ultimately re-signed with the Dodgers?
ES: Two things:
1) He was much closer to becoming a Brave than becoming an Athletic.
2) You wish you were paying a shortstop, hitting .247/.313/.324, $30 million over three seasons?
(I was just trying to figure out a way to keep him from mentioning the Unmentionable One.)
67M: Looking toward the future, who are some of the big names in LA's farm system?
ES: Josh Lindblom impressed in spring training, and has done nothing to disappoint in Double A so far this season. Of all the prospects, he's the most likely to make an impact with the big club this season. Long term, pitchers Chris Withrow and Ethan Martin, and shortstop Dee Gordon have made big strides this year.
67M: And finally, not that I am ever one to dwell on the past (ahem), but if baseball had actually awarded home-field advantage to teams with the better record, you do realize that Game 1 of the 1988 Series would have been played in Oakland, right?
ES: The Dodgers got lucky in two respects that year; they also had home field advantage against the Mets, whom they beat in seven games (in the NLCS). If you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch my 1988 World Series DVD set.
Thanks, Eric. Tell your boys to go easy on us.
Dallas Braden makes his first inter-league start tomorrow; game time is 7:10PM.